Posted on: November 22, 2011 2:04 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 3:40 pm

On the final day, Braun got my vote

As I wrote on the final Sunday of the regular season, the National League MVP race was so close that I wouldn't decide until the season was over.

When it was, I picked Ryan Braun over Matt Kemp.

So did the majority of the voters, which is why Braun is this year's NL MVP.

Kemp had an outstanding season. So did Braun.

Braun had a huge impact on the pennant race. Kemp, basically through no fault of his own, did not.

The MVP is an individual award, but baseball is a team game. Everything you do is affected by your teammates.

And in my mind, it's hard (but not impossible) to be the MVP when your teammates aren't good enough to help you contend for a championship.

Would my vote have been different had Kemp won the Triple Crown, as he had a chance to do in the final weeks of the season?

It's possible it would have been. You'll never know, because I'll never know. I never had to make that decision.

I had to decide based on what did happen, and what happened was that Braun's great season helped his team to a championship, while Kemp's great season kept his team from losing more games than it won.

My ballot:

1. Braun.

2. Kemp.

3. Prince Fielder. For the first part of the season, he was even better than Braun. For the whole year, Braun got the edge.

4. Albert Pujols. He started slow (for him), and then he was hurt. But he came back strong, and so did his team.

5. Lance Berkman. Without him, the Cardinals would have been buried early.

6. Roy Halladay. The Phillies were the dominant team in the regular season, and their starting pitching was the reason. The problem was that it was hard to separate out one starter.

7. Justin Upton. Great year, great story, but his home-road split (1.033 OPS at home, .767 on road) held him down.

8. Cliff Lee. Based on June (5-0, 0.21) and August (5-0, 0.45), he was the MVP. For the full season, he just makes the ballot.

9. Joey Votto. Didn't repeat his 2010 season, so he won't repeat as MVP.

10. Carlos Ruiz. His numbers are nowhere near MVP-worthy. I gave him a 10th-place vote because of the impact he has on the Phillies pitching, which was so good that if I could have voted for the rotation as a whole, they would have been the MVP.

Posted on: November 22, 2011 1:34 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 1:55 pm

Replay, realignment, draft highlight new CBA

The biggest changes in the new CBA, announced Tuesday by Major League Baseball and the players union:

1. A five-year contract, running through Dec. 1, 2016, means that baseball will go at least 20 years without a work stoppage.

2. As announced last week, the Astros move from the National League Central to the American League West in 2013, creating two leagues of 15 teams each.

3. A second wild-card team will be added in each league, beginning either next year or in 2013. The two wild cards will play a one-game playoff prior to the Division Series.

4. Instant replay use expanded to cover fair/foul calls and balls that may have been trapped, subject to negotiations with the umpires union.

5. Blood testing for HGH will begin in spring training 2012. Players will be tested each spring, will be subject to random tests during the winter and will be subject to tests "for reasonable cause" during the season.

6. "Participation in the All-Star Game will be required unless the player is unable to play due to injury or is otherwise excused by the Office of the Commissioner."

7. Major changes were made in an attempt to curb draft spending. Teams will be subject to a "signing bonus pool" that will relate to their spot in the draft. Teams that exceed their pool by up to five percent will pay a 75 percent tax, and teams that exceed by more than that will face a tax and a loss of future draft picks. The picks that are lost will be distributed by a lottery which will be weighted towards teams that lost the most games the previous year.

8. Small-market and low-revenue teams will be given extra draft picks after the first and second rounds, distributed by lottery.

9. Free-agent compensation is changed dramatically. Players will be subject to compensation only if the current team offers a salary equal to the average of the top 125-paid players in the game.

10. International signing bonuses will be limited dramatically, with each team given a "signing bonus pool" assigned based on reverse order of standings. Teams exceeding the pool will pay a tax, and teams exceeding by at least five percent will lose rights to sign high-money international players in future years.

11. The luxury-tax threshold will stay at $178 million for the next two years, then will rise to $189 million for the rest of the agreement.

12. Players cannot use smokeless tobacco during interviews or club appearances, and cannot carry tobacco tins in their uniforms.

13. The minimum salary rises from $414,000 in 2011 to $480,000 in 2012, $490,000 in 2013 and $500,000 in 2014. The rate for the final two years of the agreement will be subject to a cost-of-living increase.

14. An increase in the number of the "super 2's" for salary arbitration. What that means is that for players with between two and three years' service time, the top 22 percent will now be arbitration-eligible, up from 17 percent previously.
Category: MLB
Posted on: November 21, 2011 5:50 pm

Orioles working to sign Korean reliever

New Orioles general manager Dan Duquette is particularly well connected in the international market, so it's no surprise that the Orioles could now make some international baseball history.

The O's are working on signing Chong Tae-Hyon, a 33-year-old relief pitcher who could become the first player to go directly from the Korean league to the majors. Reports out of Korea indicated Monday that the deal was close to being done, and that Chong could sign a two-year deal.

Chong pitched for Korea in the 2000 Olympics, and also in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic. He became a free agent last week, calling off negotiations with his former team, the SK Wyverns.

"I've long wanted to pitch in the majors, and I want to find out if I can compete there," Chong told the Yonhap News Agency.

Chong is described by scouts as an "extreme sidearmer."

Shin-Soo Choo of the Indians was the only Korean player in the major leagues in 2011. Choo didn't play in the Korean league, instead signing with the Mariners as a 18-year-old amateur free agent in 2000.

Category: MLB
Posted on: November 21, 2011 5:31 pm

A's are selling, and Bailey could move

A year ago, the A's believed that a few tweaks to their offense could make them a true contender in the American League West.

They added David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham . . . and won seven fewer games than they did the year before, finishing 13 games farther behind the champion Rangers.

Winning is going to take more than a few tweaks, especially with the continuing uncertainty about a new stadium, and the A's now realize that. And that's why general manager Billy Beane's strategy this winter is different.

It's also why closer Andrew Bailey could be on his way out of town.

While there has been talk of the A's trading starter Gio Gonzalez, Bailey is actually the A's pitcher most likely to move, sources said Monday. Bailey attracted interest from the Blue Jays and Phillies (before they signed Jonathan Papelbon) earlier this winter, and reported Monday that the Reds are now interested, as well.

The A's, no surprise, are looking for offense in return, preferably young, cheap offense.

Beane is said to be willing to talk about almost any of his players, but he is still holding out some hope of signing Gonzalez to a long-term contract, according to sources. Gonzalez could still be moved this winter, or the A's could hold onto him and possibly try to deal him next summer.

Bailey is a 27-year-old two-time All-Star who went 24-for-26 in save situations in 2011. He's entering his first arbitration year, so he's still relatively cost-effective.

Category: MLB
Posted on: November 18, 2011 2:31 pm
Edited on: November 18, 2011 6:25 pm

Draft-bonus revamp is the big flaw in new CBA

Baseball does not need a salary cap. The results show it.

The owners no longer push for it, and that's probably the biggest reason labor agreements now get done so smoothly in this sport, and why the newest deal is now on track to be formally announced early next week, according to sources.

Details of the new agreement remain somewhat sketchy, but some of what we know seems positive. The revamping of draft-pick compensation for signing free agents, in particular, looks like a big improvement; the current system had become awkward and unhelpful to either side. Realignment and expansion of the playoffs are good for the game, too.

And then there are the new rules about the draft itself. Not good.

Commissioner Bud Selig and some owners wanted hard slotting for draft bonuses. While they didn't get that, the union eventually agreed to a system that will penalize teams for overspending on draft bonuses, including taking away future picks for teams that "overspend."

Really bad idea, and here are two reasons why:

First, under the current system, the draft is the best way for mid- and low-revenue teams to keep up with the big spenders. The Rays built a contender by smart drafting and smart spending, and the Nationals, Pirates and Royals are now doing the same.

Second, bigger draft bonuses help baseball as an overall business attract the best athletes available. Curbs on bonuses (combined with a lack of full scholarships given out by college baseball) push good athletes towards football and basketball, and that's bad for baseball.

More on that in a bit, but the worst part of the new system is the potential effect on mid- and low-revenue teams that have come to understand that draft spending is more cost-efficient and productive than free-agent spending.

General managers and scouting directors understand that, and it's why they're near-unanimous in behind-the-scenes opposition to the new rules. Owners who say that they want to build teams on scouting and player development (which is most of them) should understand that, but obviously don't.

Maybe they need to go and run teams themselves.

Look at the experience of Frank Coonelly.

When he worked for Selig, he was responsible for screaming at teams that spent more than baseball recommended. When he went to work for the Pirates at club president, he started to ignore the limits himself.

"It only took for him to be in the system to understand," said agent Scott Boras, who represented the Pirates' top two picks last summer, and negotiated above-slot deals for both (for a combined $13 million). "[These new rules] illustrate that those in the commissioner's office are not in the system."

Boras has data to back up a point I've made for a long time, which is that almost all of the biggest draft bonuses turned out to be good deals. The Nationals certainly don't regret the $25 million combined they spent to sign Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

Imagine how much they'd need to spend to add that kind of talent through free agency.

Imagine if the Pirates (pre-Coonelly) had paid Matt Wieters $6 million out of the draft in 2007, rather than passing on him because he wanted "above-slot" money. If they had Wieters, they wouldn't have had to give Rod Barajas $4 million to be their catcher in 2012, let alone have paid Ryan Doumit almost $9 million for the last two seasons.

Selig's backers would no doubt argue that in a true slotting system, Wieters would have accepted the slot number the Pirates were offering, because he couldn't make more money by slipping to a lower-drafting but higher-paying team.

But this new system doesn't provide for true slots. If the Pirates passed on Wieters because he was too expensive (and they didn't want to risk losing a future draft pick), a team like the Yankees could sign him for big money and say, "Forget the future pick." Their future pick is going to be lower in the first round, anyway, and it's not of nearly as much value to them as the Pirates' pick is to Pittsburgh.

It's a bad system, but there are ways to fix it.

One possibility: Allow each team one exception pick a year, where the bonus wouldn't count against draft-pick penalties. Or even allow an exception every other year.

Or, if you really want to allow the draft to serve the teams that need it most, allow an exception to teams drafting higher.

The point is, the new system already needs fixing -- and it can be fixed.

Baseball needs to allow the draft to benefit the teams that need it most, and it needs to allow the system to benefit the sport, by helping to attract the best talent.

Without significant signing bonuses, Bubba Starling is playing football at Nebraska, instead of playing baseball for the Royals. And Archie Bradley is playing football at Oklahoma, instead of playing baseball for the Diamondbacks.

Baseball is better for having signed them, and two teams that need to develop through scouting and the draft are better for it, too.

The new system isn't a disaster, but it's not good. The bigger news, though, is that baseball once again has labor peace.

And no salary cap.

Some fans, especially fans of small-market teams, remain convinced that a cap would help. But baseball has proven that it doesn't need one.

While it's true that big-spending teams enjoy an advantage, it's also true that smart management is even more important. The low-spending Rays have made the playoffs three of the last four years (same as the Yankees, and one more time than the Red Sox).

With no cap, baseball has had nine different champions in the last 11 years. And the Cardinals, one of the two repeat champs, did it without a super-high payroll.

The Yankees annually spend far more than everyone else, yet the Yankees have won just one of those last 11 World Series.

Good thing, too. Because if the Yankees were winning every year, you can bet that the other owners would have been pushing for a cap.

Instead, the owners pushed through a new deal that has some pluses -- and one significant minus.

Posted on: November 17, 2011 3:25 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 3:44 pm

Cubs have a manager, Red Sox have more turmoil

MILWAUKEE -- Remember that idea that the Cubs and Red Sox were on parallel tracks in their manager searches?

This is where the tracks divide.

The Cubs made their pick of Dale Sveum official on Thursday, announcing that they'll introduce him at a Friday morning press conference at Wrigley Field.

The Red Sox made it official that their eight weeks of turmoil will lead to a ninth, and likely to a 10th and 11th, as well.

"We're going to take a breather [from the managerial search] this weekend," general manager Ben Cherington said as he left the Pfister Hotel early Thursday afternoon.

Cherington is fighting the perception that he and the Red Sox baseball people are being overruled by ownership on the manager search, a perception that was only fed by later reports Thursday that the owners were talking to Bobby Valentine about the job. The Red Sox are fighting the perception that the September collapse and the departures of Theo Epstein and Terry Francona have left them as one of baseball's biggest messes.

Thursday morning, Peter Gammons reported that Red Sox ownership wants managerial "experience." This after the team's baseball leadership went through an initial round of interviews in which only one of the five candidates (Tigers third-base coach Gene Lamont) had managed a full season in the big leagues.

Not only that, but Cherington and his aides picked Sveum as the one candidate to bring in for a second interview, and to meet the owners. Sveum's managerial experience consists of 12 regular-season games and four playoff games with the 2008 Brewers.

Sveum had lunch with the Red Sox on Wednesday, but by the end of the day he was no longer a candidate in Boston, and had the Cubs offer that he officially accepted Thursday.

So where do the Red Sox go from here?

Cherington and some of his aides are headed to the Dominican Republic, where they are expected to watch soon-to-be free agent Yoennis Cespedes.

When they return, Cherington said that the Red Sox may expand their search. As of now, Lamont, Torey Lovullo and Sandy Alomar Jr. remain in contention, with Pete Mackanin already told that he is no longer a candidate.

"There could be at least one more," Cherington said.

You have to wonder if Ryne Sandberg, who was said to have interviewed well in St. Louis before the Cardinals hired Mike Matheny, will now get a chance.

And as for that "experience" thing?

"It's a factor, but not the overriding factor," Cherington said.

Eventually, they'll hire a manager. And maybe it won't be a disaster.

Remember, it took until Dec. 4 before the Red Sox hired Francona in 2003.

That worked out well.

Will this?

Posted on: November 17, 2011 2:55 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 2:58 pm

No Marlins signings, but it's a 'new environment'

MILWAUKEE -- They're still the new Marlins. The offers are still out there.

The stadium is still new.

And the fact that none of those big offers have yet been accepted?

Hey, none of those big-name free agents has yet signed anywhere else, either.

"I don't feel pressure to do anything -- ever," Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said as he left baseball's owners meetings Thursday. "But it's a new environment."

In this new environment, the Marlins can bid on Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and others, and even get them to Miami on recruiting visits. They're still considered a longshot on signing Pujols, but may even be the favorite at this point for Reyes.

One complication with signing Reyes would be that incumbent shortstop Hanley Ramirez would need to move to third base. The Miami Herald reported this week that Ramirez isn't thrilled with the idea, but Loria insisted it won't be a problem.

"He's a wonderful team guy," Loria said.

Remember, new Marlins, new environment.

In Loria's mind, new environment and new stadium are related.

Asked Thursday if it was a big step that big-name free agents have visited the Marlins, he was quick with his answer.

"I think all you have to do is go to Miami and look at the ballpark, and you wouldn't ask that," he said.

As for whether he thinks the Marlins will sign Reyes, Pujols or any of the others, Loria simply said: "I don't know, we'll wait and see."

Posted on: November 17, 2011 1:30 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 1:35 pm

With 15 teams per league, schedule will work

MILWAUKEE -- It's going to work.

The details are still a little sketchy, still a little up in the air. But 15 teams in each league, with interleague play, is going to work.

"I don't think any schedule is perfect," commissioner Bud Selig said on baseball's historic Thursday. "This will be very good."

Selig offered few details, in part because not everything has been decided yet, and in part because some things are dependent on the completion of the new collective bargaining agreement with the players (which will be done soon).

But here's what you can expect beginning with the 2013 season, now that it's official that the Astros are moving from the National League Central to the American League West:

-- There will be interleague play every day of the season. That means an increase in interleague play, probably from the current 15 games per American League team to 30 games for each team.

-- Each division will have five teams, which is the main reason for the move. Having the same number of teams in each division simplifies the schedule, and also means that each team within a division can play the exact same schedule (which doesn't happen under the current format).

-- It's likely but not certain that there will continue to be an unbalanced schedule within each league. It's possible that each team will continue to play 18 games against each team in its own division, as is the case now.

-- The designated hitter rule will almost certainly remain as is, with the DH used in all games in American League parks, and with pitchers hitting in all games in National League parks.

-- There will be two wild-card teams per league, possibly as soon as next year but definitely by 2013. Most likely, the two wild cards will play a one-game playoff, with the winner facing the team with the league's best record.

Now are you convinced it will work? If not, maybe reading my column from June will help.
Category: MLB
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